Fill Your Heart

Fill Your Heart.
Fill Your Heart (live, 1971).

Bowie seemed to adore “Fill Your Heart,” a collaboration between the hippie comedian Biff Rose and ’70s malignance Paul Williams: it was in his live sets by early 1970 and he led off the second side of Hunky Dory with it, his first cover song on record since “I Pity The Fool.”

Where the other Rose song Bowie covered, “Buzz the Fuzz,” was a hippie drug joke, “Fill Your Heart” is music for squares. It goes far beyond the realm of squares, really: it seems best suited to appeal to delusional old people, toddlers and good-tempered dogs. But you can see why “Fill Your Heart” entranced Bowie—its lyric offers comfort and peace (“fear is in your head/only in your head, so forget your head”), promising that the pain of consciousness can be alleviated by love, by losing yourself entirely in someone else. Lovers never lose, as the song goes.

Rose delivered those lines with the trace of a smirk, while Tiny Tim, who covered the song as the b-side of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” sang it with glee and amazement, as though he’d finally found a lyric that topped his own extravagant persona. Bowie, on Hunky Dory, is so committed to the song’s treacly philosophy that he descends into pure tastelessness—at times gurning like a gruesome holiday camp performer. In its way, “Fill Your Heart” is the most disturbing track on the record.

Mick Ronson does the light-orchestra arrangements (the LP sleeve credits the influence of Arthur G. Wright, who had arranged Rose’s recording),  Rick Wakeman gets the showcase piano solo and Bowie provides the saxophone.

First performed at the BBC on 2 February 1970, and again on 21 September 1971; the Hunky Dory version, recorded ca. July-August 1971, was a last-minute addition to the LP, replacing “Bombers” (probably still the right call); Bowie opened his set at Aylesbury with it, on 25 September 1971.

Top: “Drunk NCOs, Osnabruck,” 1970.

13 Responses to Fill Your Heart

  1. Douglas says:

    A Bowie-cover-songs question to which I don’t know the answer: when did he record his version of “Penny Lane” for some Pickwick-like hits-by-not-the-original-artists comp? Was that ’67? Or was it somebody else who just sounds an awful lot like him?

  2. col1234 says:


    The Pegg book on Bowie, which seems fairly accurate, says the alleged Bowie “Penny Lane” is most likely not by DB himself. LP in question is some knockoff thing called “Hits 67,” where the not-Bowie also shows up on “A Little Bit Me, a Little Bit You.”

  3. […] afloat even in the shallows.  His one-trick-pony’s trick was a Bowie cover called “Fill Your Heart“, which is probably still supporting him.  But his defining career song is […]

  4. delfuller1 says:

    Penny Lane is definitely NOT Bowie. It’s a track on Hits 67, a Music For Pleasure compilation of covers, similar to the Top Of the Pops LPs and released 1967. Just another urban myth perpetuated by greedy dealers to hike up the price of a 50p LP found in most charity shops. Patrickpatterson credits session singer Alan Johnson and he’s no doubt correct but what is important to note is The Beatles released Penny Lane 13/2/67 so the MFP compilation with this cover would have been made later. Bowie was in Decca studios London recording his own debut album, entitled David Bowie, between 11/11/66 -25/2/67 which was released June 1967.Wake up people.

  5. While I can imagine that Muppet friend and not-dead artist Paul Williams might not be everyone’s cup of tea, calling his a malignance without offering any justification seems a bit nastier and unfair than the tone I have come to expect from the blog.

    • Agreed, Paul Williams is great. Plus, y’know one of the things I love about Bowie is that his persona can sincerely encompass light-family-entertainment whimsy like this, threatening howls of sexual deviance like Candidate, Sweet AOR soul like Win AND doomy monoliths of Mittel-European ice like Sense of Doubt with no apparent contradiction or surprise.

  6. JJ Woods says:

    Got to be the best cover I have ever heard!

  7. Propergation says:

    A great read, thanks to taking me back, to one the most important albums, of my life

  8. Just want to say that I adore ‘Fill Your Heart’ and see nothing wrong with its philosophy – it’s just something you have to go with for a few minutes, and for those few minutes it’s a complete joy.

  9. Paula Clark says:

    I somewhere read that “Fill Your Heart” somehow fit with where David’s head was at re: Crowleyism.. anyone know? Anyway, I find it a totally escapist pleasure!

  10. John r says:

    I think that fill your heart sets the whole tone of hunky dory. It is the heart and soul of the album. The quirky, slightly unhinged approach is lifted lock stock and barrel from the biff rose version though I suspect he heard the tiny Tim version first? One of the very few albums in Bowie’s discography that isn’t named after a song but a mood, and fill your heart expresses the idea of everything being hunkydory more than any other song with perhaps kooks a close second. Bombers would have been such a mistake in my opinion.

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